Archive | November, 2013

Grateful for Granny

27 Nov

I saw my 94 year old grandmother yesterday and today will have Thanksgiving dinner with her at my aunt and uncle’s house, although we are doing things a day early. At 44, I reflect back on the many blessings of having been close with my grandparents, particularly when I was young. Here are some thoughts:

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My parents wisely made sure that I spent time with their parents despite the geographical distance between California and Wisconsin. From the time I was five years old, they put me on an airplane to spend an entire summer month with my grandparents and extended family. Likewise, many Thanksgivings and Christmases were also spent with this lovely company.

For someone with divorced parents this was a rare treat, as I was able to witness marriages still in tact. I was also enamored by the fact that my grandfathers went to work while my grandmothers stayed at home. To me this was a thrilling arrangement that meant children didn’t have to go to daycare and delicious dinners of pot roast or pork chops would be served every night instead of just on weekends. It triggered my deepest fantasies that until this time had only been fostered by watching shows such as “Leave It to Beaver” and “I Love Lucy.” I remember being seduced by the smell of bacon and coffee wafting down the hall lulling me gently awake on my first morning with my grandparents. These were not smells I identified in my own home on weekday mornings. For one thing, neither my father nor mother drank coffee. They both preferred Coke and Diet-Coke instead. And there simply was no time to cook breakfast in the morning before my mom went to work and I went to school. Eggs and bacon were something I tended to get for dinner instead. For breakfast, my mother often gave me a Twinkie or Ding Dong because Hostess Treats didn’t require any cooking. Later when I got older, I made myself oatmeal, which I liked very much because it was hot, creamy and supposedly “Old Fashioned.”


I loved old-fashioned things. In both of my grandparents’ homes I would gaze longingly at the china displayed in hutches and sterling silver tea sets displayed on fashionable tea carts. I would help polish the silver to keep it from rusting and as I rubbed the cream into the silver with a cloth, I would eventually see my own reflection looking back at me. I loved that extra sets of sheets and linen were kept in hall closets and I would spend hours playing in the attics and basements of each respected house pretending I was Nancy Drew. Likewise, the architecture in Wisconsin was so different from that in Southern California that I would stare out the window as we drove along Lake Mendota to the University where my Grandpa Porter worked at UW Madison as a biochemist and fantasize about which houses I wanted to live in when I grew up. I loved the Tudor style homes best. I told myself I would eventually live in Madison and would be a writer and professor there.

Those summers in Wisconsin were incredibly idyllic. My dad’s parents both grew up on farms so they kept a huge vegetable garden out on an actual farm. After dinner we’d often go work in the garden. Well, they would work while I ran through the cornfields, sang songs and did lots of cartwheels. Then we’d clean up afterwards and go to A & W for a soft cone.

There was always activity going on in my grandma’s kitchen. She made her own jam, Ketchup and applesauce and froze and canned the surplus produce, which in addition to vegetables included raspberries, cherries, peaches and apricots. I would often take jars of things down to the cellar after we labeled what was in it and put a date on it. Sometimes Grandma would name something after me like what came to be known as “Lise’s cherry jam”.

Big Macs On Steroids

20 Nov

The other day I was making reservations to stay in the Big Sur for I’ll be in that neck of the woods down the pike. I heard the woman on the other end of the line hesitate before she said, “I need to let you know there is no internet connection. Or t.v. in our rooms.” My heart did cartwheels when I was reminded of this. “That seriously is no problem,” I responded.

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Now don’t get me wrong. I’m just as into the internet and my smart phone as the next. And because I watch very little t.v., FB has become a form of mindless and sometimes thoughtful entertainment. But more and more, I feel the burden of modern life catching up with me as we demand that our systems take more and more in each day.

In order to function, work and live well, there has to be a degree of inner spaciousness. Without it, all suffers greatly.

We are a culture of Big Macs on steroids. Bigger, faster, louder, more!!!!!! It is exhausting.

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And it negates the fact that there is a natural rhythm to life of both action and stillness.


I am ready to eventually live on a farm or in some remote European village. To take up sailing or fly fishing. To go work somewhere in an organic garden. For now, I dream of my reservations in the Big Sur… Where there will be no internet and no noise. Just the sound of living water and dense fog cloaking me in its mystery.



17 Nov

Landing in San Diego is like nowhere else. The plane flies so close to the skyscrapers if you could roll down the windows of the plane, you could touch them. Then as the aircraft aims towards the landing strip, ships appear on the harbor like little toy boats.

Yet despite the beauty, my heart felt heavy. I had already wearied of arriving home trip after trip with no one to greet me. I’d get my bag from the revolving belt at baggage claim and then head towards the taxi stand. Although only a ten-minute ride home, the trip would fatigue me as the cab driver griped about how little taxi drivers make and how hard it is to make a living in San Diego. Exhausted, I’d nod my head hoping to communicate empathy and compassion but this would only encourage the driver more in his litany of protests. By the time I arrived home, I’d feel like I’d given a therapy session, yet I was the one giving the 25% tip.

And then there’d be the homecoming with my little men. My heart would always grip in fear worried they would be sad and depressed because of my absence. Indeed, sometimes they would look at me dazed and uncertain, as if they didn’t understand why their mom was showing up when they’d resigned themselves to my being gone. Each would give a forlorn meow as they came up to me extending their paws in a handshake. Rumi would inevitably rub up against my suitcase and smell my carry on bag while Hafiz would trot straight to the kitchen and demand a can of food. I’d stand in the kitchen watching him as he gobbled his food concerned that he wasn’t getting enough when I was away. While he was purring and grunting simultaneously, I’d immediately clean the cat box and sweep up some of the stray gravel and cat hair. Then I’d try to put mail and domestic concerns aside and plop on the bed so the little men could come snuggle me. Tentative at first, they’d each jump on the bed and promptly sit on top of me. They never punished me. Instead, they’d cling to me. Like the apostles thinking Jesus to be dead and buried, they seemed shocked by my re-emergence and had to see if my body was real. I wasn’t an apparition. I was incarnate. Their mother returned to them. Only now, they were dead and buried. And they weren’t coming back. There was no resurrection.

They’d always been there. When I peed. When I took a bath. When I walked into the kitchen. Someone had always followed me. When I sat down in a chair, someone had always jumped in my lap.


A Room of One’s Own

11 Nov


When I was a toddler, I was told on a family hike not to play too close to a stream in case I fell in. Of course I did, although it wasn’t certain whether this was an accident or my own orchestration. I also drove my tricycle straight into the swimming pool. I was a small child, not fully aware of danger or the concept of defying my elders. I was however beginning to make choices, one of which entailed playing in water at all costs.


People who know me, know that I have an almost bizarre need to be in water. It is as if I need to return to that element from which we came. Colleagues I travel with joke that I am grumpy until I’ve had my swim and have learned that a hotel with a pool is my gold standard. And this weekend, at a retreat where I was one of the speakers, I was teased as the uber person out there at 6:00 a.m. getting a workout in. I don’t know how to explain that being in the pool had nothing to do with some compulsive need to maintain fitness. It is merely a by-product of a much deeper compulsion.


Virginia Woolf, in her essay, “A Room of One’s Own,” makes the feminist case that female writers need “a room of one’s own” and financial means in order to write. Otherwise, without quiet, solitude and time, too many elements intrude, inhibiting women from staking out a professional claim to their work.

Even as a young person, I sought out a “room of my own.” I was an only child so I had my own room at home but even in public spaces, I would stake out a private one. Many of my high school lunches were spent in the library where I could get a few moments to myself free of the social demands of teenage life.

I am now a woman. For better or worse, I am free of the domestic challenges Woolf claimed were such an obstacle for female writers. But nonetheless, there are plenty of distractions and demands that can rob me of my creativity, including my own work that helps finance my passions. Yet I have found that no matter how busy I am or how stimuli-overloaded I feel, if I can get myself into a body of water, my life force returns. It is my “room of my own” – the one place I can get away from everything, including my own mind. Underneath the water, I hear nothing but silence. Looking up at the sky from the water, I see no one but the hand of God. The water is my baptismal font, my ctrl-alt-delete, my rebooting and renewal. And although the exercise plays a role, it is so much more.

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My favorite book, aptly named, “Crossing the Unknown Sea” addresses some of these themes. The author, David Whyte speaks of the need for rejuvenation if we’re to maintain our vocation. Quoting Joseph Campbell, he states, “You must have a place you can go to where you do not know what your work is or who you work for, where you do not know who you are married to or who your children are” (p.157). He then warns of how work can trap us in a type of “postmodern serfdom,” (p.163) if we’re not careful and don’t carve out niches of time for our deeper soul needs. Then while addressing how we so often say, “yes” to everything that can rob us of work/life balance, Whyte states: “With regard to our marriage with time, to say yes would be the equivalent of promiscuity, of faithlessness and betrayal. Stress means we have committed adultery with regard to our marriage with time” (181). Those two gorgeous sentences explain why I swim and surf. The water is my form of marriage counseling when too much is coming at me or when I’ve made other things my idols. It is how I keep myself from cheating on my own soul and God as well.


Problems With Proof-Texting

7 Nov

The other day someone sent me a scripture. The words were beautiful and fitting to a situation I was reflecting on and I greatly appreciated the person’s wisdom and thoughtfulness in sending them to me. And I will pray over these particular words. But I couldn’t initially without first pulling out my bible to see where specifically in the text this quote fell.


The words were Jeremiah 6:16 and they read: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” I had been talking about when we’re at various cross roads in our lives and this passage definitely reflects that theme. Yet what follows next in the text is Israel’s flat out refusal to follow the right path or “derek” and the subsequent judgment as a result of that.

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“But they said, ‘We will not walk in it’.” Then God says (or through Jeremiah says), “Hear, O earth; I am going to bring disaster on this people…”

The prophet Jeremiah serves as a type of covenantal lawyer bringing charges against Israel when they break their end of the bargain. Jeremiah also promises that their will be a new covenant that will help with restoration.


Is it necessary to address all of this in order to pray over a scripture? Absolutely not. But I personally like to know where I am in the bible – what lines come before and after the scripture, what passages, and what books. What is the context? And this is probably rooted in the fact that I’ve studied theatre for years and actors need to know where in the play they are. What scenes have come before and where is the text leading the characters?

The other day I saw reactions on the internet to the Pope kissing a man with boils on his face. People were deeply moved by his compassion as was I. And it made me think of another beautiful scripture, 1 John 4:7-8. “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” And even though a little further down there is the line, “God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God,” I believe that anyone who reflects love, reflects God regardless of religious denomination. When I worked in a nursing home, I witnessed staff embody the same compassion as the Pope, giving of themselves selflessly to those most ill. And our staff was made up of people of all faiths and people not of faith.


The bible is an interesting document. I believe it is the inspired word of God; I also believe that because it was written by humans it is also flawed. And the way people distort scriptures for ill and evil disturbs me greatly.

I have loved words all my life and have taken deep solace from poetry. How I made it until my late thirties never having read the bible is a mystery to me. Yet when my mom died and someone sent me an email with Ephesians 1:18 that said, “I pray the eyes of your heart may be enlightened that you may know the hope for which you are called,” it was as if this blanket of peace enveloped me the minute I said those words out loud. Something mystical was taking place when I interfaced with the scripture.

With all the arguments over whether the bible is the literal word of God, I hope the book continues to be read and to be read critically. I don’t know much about precious stones but I have this image of a jeweler appraising a diamond by holding it up to the light and examining it from a variety of different angles to see its value and integrity.

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I am grateful that my friend sent me that scripture for it prompted me to look more deeply at the Word and to discern what it was saying – in its ancient context and to me personally in this moment in time.

A Matter of Life and Death

6 Nov

I remember the first time I made a truly conscious decision to keep my mouth shut. I was standing in the kitchen with my father when I was about 16 years old. I was never a disrespectful kid yet I had said something one hundred percent truthful. My dad was under the influence of a substance and although he had never been a violent man, I took one look at his face and my intuition told me to shut up. I stood in disbelief and fear as I realized that the man who had so beautifully raised me to think critically no longer wanted to hear my thoughts. In fact, there was no tolerance for them if they differed from his.

It was one of the most painful truths of my life and it took me years and his death to fully metabolize it. It also took me years of looking up to powerful men in admiration before I realized I radiated that same power. All I had to do was learn how to access and express it.

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All of us, regardless of gender are susceptible to such an experience, yet I think there is something unique in the female experience that makes us more vulnerable to silencing our truths over time. Finding our voice again requires the arduous journey of the salmon as we make our way home.

The other day I saw someone who has known me for a long time and I said to him, “You know, I don’t know why but actualizing my creativity has been more important to me than anything else in my life. It’s been like a matter of life and death.” Later that night, reflecting on this, it hit me. Expression has been a matter of life and death. I had sensed the potential for conflict and violence in that encounter with my father and it didn’t matter whether or not it had transpired. For many women around the world, speaking up for their needs and rights leads to abuse and in some situations, death. Likewise, not using one’s gifts creates its own form of spiritual and psychological death.

Yes, love and child bearing are beautiful aspects of femininity but before all else, it was more important to me that I verbalize my truth before pursuing these. And I will devote the rest of my life to helping women and men find theirs’. But in-between time, I will be shouting my voice from the rooftops. I want my “Yes!” and my “No!” and all the vocalizations in-between.

They say when Sleeping Beauty finally wakes up, she is almost fifty years old. No matter. Nothing is better than being awake and alive.

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Are You A Mommy?

2 Nov

Running into a previous co-worker at the grocery store, I chatted with her in-between acknowledging her little girl who was sitting in the basket cart. “Where’s your sweetie?” the child asked. I smiled at her realizing that because her mother calls her “sweetie”, she wondered where my sweetie was since there was no little girl in my cart.

“I don’t have a sweetie,” I replied but your mommy is lucky to have you for a sweetie.”

Then a few beats later the little girl interrupted asking, “Are you a mommy?” I could feel my breath stand still a few seconds. Moments before running into them I had dreaded turning down the aisle where they kept the cleaning supplies because it meant I had to pass the cat litter, which I no longer buy. I no longer have “sweeties.” I have also been thinking of whether I would seriously adopt a child and here was this old friend who has adopted a number of children. When we worked together I used to ask her about the process.


“No honey, I’m not a mommy,” I said to the little girl. Her mother and I continued talking.

Then to drive the stake in, the little girl interrupted with, “Where is your mommy?” By now tears were smarting in my eyes. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that my mommy was in heaven. Nor would it have been appropriate to tell a four year old that I’ve been reflecting on the mother/daughter relationship for the last few months as I move into my next book project. Or, that the agent who is currently reviewing my book represented an author who ended up mothering a boy she met on the streets when he asked her for some spare change.

The same aunt that once said, “God is not subtle,” also told me there are more ways to serve and give our love than the traditional paradigm. That just because God did not bring me marriage and motherhood doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to give.

I thought about the selflessness required to raise a child but even more so, the selflessness required to raise a child who is not of own’s blood. While marriage is supposed to be selfless, so often we enter into courtship thinking about what the other will do for us. Women in particular are guilty of this thinking in terms of how the man will provide for them, ravish them, rescue them and sweep them off their feet. “What’s in it for me?” is the mentality that both genders fall susceptible to. Instead we should ask, “How can I love you? Serve you? Make your life better? How can we, as a “we” enrich not only our lives together but the lives of others?”

So maybe it isn’t so backwards to think about adopting a child before finding a mate. Maybe in this I will finally learn that in the end love is about sharing and giving not about what we’re going to “get”.

I know that if I really decide to adopt a child I am about all but killing the chances of finding a husband for I am at my most available now. I don’t have an ex-husband or children or astronomical debt. And despite being in my forties, I have the same body I did in my twenties. And yet, if we wait too long for the ship to sail we may never take the voyage. All I know is that the winds are stirring. And this heart wants to experience the journey of giving in some capacity besides one’s work in a world where there is such a profound need for love.

Day of the Dead

1 Nov

I always feel a certain sadness at Halloween for the 31st of October turns into the 1st of November and then we have All Saints Day, All Souls Day and the Day of the Dead.


I remember the first Halloween after my mother took her life. The holiday came a few months later and I was definitely stirred by the recent loss. And now, not long since the deaths of my two cats I feel haunted again. Whether at home or in a hotel room never graced by their presence, I have been feeling their spirits as I lay my head upon the pillow each night. How fitting for this time of year…


I didn’t realize that the death of one’s animals could linger so. Having mourned two parents, I thought the passing of one’s animals might be easier. And indeed in many ways it is. But grieving follows the same cycles that always seem to take us by surprise no matter what type of loss.

The last month of their lives was hellish for everyone. We somehow all knew death was knocking at the door. Even days before I made the decision to put Hafiz down, he clung to me, getting as close as possible when he no longer felt comfortable on my lap.




And then Rumi too began to decline and before my eyes I watched in disbelief as they went home together.


When our loved ones die there seems to be this bizarre transition where I’m not convinced they have 100% left the planet. It’s like the paper work hasn’t been fully processed in heaven. And in this phase, it’s really hard to let go.

I thought I had but I was only denying how much they meant to me and how empty it feels without them.

We remain haunted until we fully grieve. Only then can the ghosts of our loved ones finally depart. As we sit with these lingering spirits we wonder what we should make room for in our lives. How do we invite life in to the here and now, fully embodied? For if Rumi and Hafiz taught me anything, it’s that we’re not meant to be alone. We might be loners by nature and there is great joy in solitude, but our love is meant to be incarnate. It is meant to be shared with others. We were made for union.